Opinion: The Case for Peace Education in Uganda’s National Curriculum

8 January 2016

“Societies spend money training doctors to heal the ill. Why should not they also educate their citizens to conduct affairs nonviolently?”[1]


Reflecting on the above question posed by peace education scholars Harris and Morrison, anyone familiar with Uganda’s post-independence socio-political history will appreciate its relevance. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency which devastated northern Uganda for over two decades was in part fueled by ethnic fragmentation and rivalry. The prolonged war in turn bred deep seated anger, mistrust and suspicion among the affected population who questioned whether the western region dominated government had the will to end the war.


Following the end of the conflict, the Government of Uganda (GOU) launched the Northern Uganda Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) aimed at improving the region’s socio-economic conditions to national standards. However, the plan has limitations. One of the criticisms of the PRDP is that it focuses on technical solutions at the expense of the underlying political dynamics of the conflict thereby eroding the opportunity of national reconciliation.


In fact, it does not sufficiently address issues of ethnic and regional factionalism. Yet, as a 2013 analysis by the Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity (ACCS) confirms, feelings of “they against us”, based on ethnic and regional differences still abound. In fact, owing to their perceived continued marginalization and neglect by the state, MPs from Acholi sub-region in 2013 threatened to secede from Uganda and form a Nile republic.


It is against this background that a case is made for peace education in Uganda. There is now more than ever before the need to have an educated, historically informed and tolerant citizenry who identify themselves first and foremost as Ugandans as opposed to the status quo based on family, tribal or regional ties. Peace education is a wide concept and is discussed extensively in a literature review by UNICEF.


As a key agent of socialization[2], schools offer a suitable setting to nurture the young generation into responsible citizens. However, according to the United States Institute of Peace, training can take a holistic approach to include; “educators, community leaders, and grassroots groups in conflict resolution and alternative dispute resolution techniques; establishing school-based, community-based, and college-university programs and curricula development on peace and conflict resolution; and producing public outreach media programs that promote understanding between groups”.


In the context of northern Uganda, some work has already been done on this front. It is undertaken mostly by individual NGOs in liaison with Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES), but evidence so far available suggests this is just ‘a drop in the ocean’. Prominent of such NGOs is USAID, which observes that the conflict deeply traumatized the northern Uganda population, disrupted their social cohesion/values and their psycho-social well-being. Hence, USAID’s Revitalization of Education Participation and Learning in Conflict Areas (REPLICA) project was borne out of the need to address this challenge.


REPLICA has six components one of which is Peace Education, “designed to help children understand the causes and effects of conflict and to acquire skills that would help them prevent or resolve conflicts without violence”. The other components are: Guidance and Counselling/Psychosocial Care and Support, Leadership and Management, Girl Child Education, Performing Arts and Learning in Schools (PALS), and Community Integration Programme (CIP). Creative Associates International, the implementer of the REPLICA project deems it a success, noting:

“…Its school level activities help traumatized children, parents and teachers through guidance and counseling services, psychosocial support for those affected by HIV/AIDS and trauma, and peace education initiatives. …Beginning as a pilot effort in some 30 schools, the REPLICA program now reaches nearly 2,000 schools in the region and approximately 2 million children”.


However, in its own review, USAID found that its UNITY program (which administers REPLICA) serves two masters namely USAID and MoES, each of whose objectives vary, hence potentially undermining implementation. This structural flaw is no doubt bound to affect effectiveness of the programme.


Nationally, the teaching of peace education is piecemeal. It takes the form of some topics in various subjects. This state of affairs is well captured by UNESCO in its study on peace education in Africa, which finds that Uganda has elements of peace education within the syllabus but only under different appellations. The analysis adds that while some NGOs have manuals in peace education, these are neither accredited nor examined by the ministry.


While a lot of effort has focused on northern Uganda reconstruction including peace education, more still needs to be done in the rest of country if long-term stability is to be realized. As Chris Dolan points out, the realities of regional economic and political imbalances and exclusion effectively undermine people’s sense of national identity in favour of ethnicity as a source of identity and a principle of political organization.


The only nationwide attempt by the GOU at patriotism and nationalism has been through the mchaka mchaka courses at the National Leadership Institute (NALI), Kyankwanzi. Generally speaking, training in military skills is provided for in the Uganda Constitution, Article 17 (2). However, the design and content of the training has led critics to label the institute as a political education wing of the ruling NRM party.


There is need to harness Uganda’s diverse population of 56 tribes and nine indigenous communities, and re-invigorate the pre-independence level of unity, oneness and nationalism. That is, after all, the traditional African way of life, of community taking precedence over the individual. As Prof Mbiti observes: “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am[3]. Indeed, the African Union has recently adopted Agenda 2063 that embraces Africa’s diversity as the way forward to African Renaissance: “At its heart, this new roadmap emphasizes the importance to success of rekindling the passion for Pan-Africanism, a sense of unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity that was a highlight of the triumphs of the 20th century”.


It is the GOU’s constitutional responsibility as per national objectives to among others, strive for national unity, peace and stability, and free basic education respectively for its citizens (Uganda Constitution, national objectives III and XVIII respectively). Uganda needs to take the lead and formulate a comprehensive peace policy, with universal peace education as its main component, and enshrine it in the already established universal education. Besides, to ensure its sustainability, peace education needs to be owned and financed not by NGOs but primarily by the GOU.


Among others, the teaching should educate the learners about the Uganda constitution especially the provisions on citizenship, human rights and freedoms, etc (Uganda Constitution, chapters 3 & 4). Scholars[4] believe that human rights play a vital role in peace education in regions of intractable conflict because, “even though it will have to be a form of indirect peace education, can promote more humane attitudes and a general awareness of the necessity to observe and respect the basic human rights of the opponent in the conflict”. Just as the government recently launched the teaching of Swahili language as a uniting factor for East African regional integration, so should it undertake the teaching of peace in schools.

[1] Ian, M. Harris and Mary Lee Morrison (2013). Peace Education. 3rd Ed. Jefferson, North Carolina, and, London: McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers.

[2] Daniel Bar-Tal and Yigal Rosen, ‘Peace Education in Societies Involved in Intractable Conflicts: Direct and Indirect Models’, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 79, No. 2 (June, 2009), 557-575

[3] John, S. Mbiti (1970). African Religions and Philosophies. New York: Doubleday & Company. P.41

[4] Daniel Bar-Tal and Yigal Rosen, ‘Peace Education in Societies Involved in Intractable Conflicts’, p.566


Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

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